In the world of electrical work, a job isn’t done right unless it’s done safely and efficiently. And while arming yourself with knowledge and caution goes a long way toward helping you work safe and smart, neither of these things give you actual physical protection from live circuitry, or help you to efficiently handle materials and make the right connections. That’s where electrician tools come into play.
Having the right tools for the job can help you work faster, more comfortably and with fewer mistakes, as well as warn you of the presence of hot circuits, insulate your body against electric shock, and protect your face and eyes from potentially dangerous sparks and saw fly-offs. Just think of them as small investments in protecting the biggest investments of all: your life and career.
Here are some of our top picks for must-have electrician tools:
Instead of gambling with cabling knives and linesmans’ pliers that can potentially nick into wires, strip wires correctly, the first time around, with a gauged wire stripper. This tool has graduated holes along the length of its jaws, which you match to the particular size wire you’ll be stripping. Because of their carefully-sized stripping notches, wire strippers are able to remove insulation without damaging the conductor beneath, so your job will have a far better chance of meeting code without you wasting time and money to repeatedly trim down and re-strip the electrical wire until you get it right.
One insulated screwdriver is good, but a whole set is even better – it’ll take you through everything from wall plate installation and removal to mounting outlet boxes and light fixtures. Insulated screwdrivers give you an extra measure of protection should your screwdriver slip and accidentally make contact with an energized circuit or component. Dielectric handles and blade coating give insulated screwdrivers the power to buffer your body against direct contact with up to 1000V – you might still feel a “bite,” but at least you won’t be electrocuted.
Even if you’ve already shut things off at the breaker box, it’s always a good idea to double check that a circuit isn’t live before beginning work on it. Receptacle testers can be helpful, but if a receptacle or the wires leading to it are damaged, this type of tester can sometimes give you a false negative, even if there’s still electricity present. That’s why we recommend carrying a non-contact voltage sniffer as well. Even though voltage sniffers don’t need to make physical contact with wires or outlet prongs, they still have the ability to detect the presence of live power – and best of all, they’re cheap and take up practically no room in your work bag.
The drywall saw that you use to make cutouts for cable pulls and outlet boxes is great, but when it comes to more specialized jobs like recessed lighting and hanging light fixtures, you’re going to need a way to make neat, round cuts fast – and that’s why you’ve got to have a hole saw. Generally sold in kits containing circular blades of different sizes, hole saws are more like power drill accessories than separate tools, but they let you do precision work in a hurry – and that’s what counts.
When you’re an electrician, protective eyewear isn’t an option. Between the risk of flying sparks and the drywall dust and other debris that can rain down on you from a hole saw, there are plenty of chances to end up with foreign objects and particulate in your eyes. Last time we checked, it was pretty tough to do electrical work with damaged vision, so protect your eyes from the get go – they’re the only ones you’ve got.
Side-Cutting pliers are one of the most popular and reached-for electricians’ tools out there, thanks to their simple versatility. Featuring cutting blades that make quick work of snipping through wire and cable, as well as knurled jaws that deliver excellent grip when you need to pull cable through walls, the only way that these multi-taskers can get any better is if they have insulated handles, which will give you a little extra protection from nasty electrical shocks.